Party like it’s 1923Nov 30, 2022 02:30PM ● By Stephen Doyle, Avalon Theatre Foundation
When you think of the Avalon Theatre, the word “bold” might not be the first word that comes to mind. However, when you look back on the local landmark’s 100-year history, there are numerous pivotal moments where it is a fitting descriptor.
Consider Walter Walker’s vision to construct the theatre in a town with a population of less than 10,000. He used his newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, to promote this audacious idea and ultimately attracted local investors to fund the Grand Junction Theatre Company in 1922.
Eleven months later, the Avalon Theatre celebrated its opening night with the famous soprano, Lucy Gates; but not before rumors circulated about shoddy construction and a balcony that would surely collapse under the weight of its audience. This resulted in Walker’s bold move to have nearly 50 tons of sacked gravel brought up to the balcony along with engineers to measure for any sagging.
JEWEL OF MAIN STREET
Fast-forward 20 years to when the Cooper Foundation purchased the theatre in 1943 and boldly invested a tidy sum to transform the Avalon into an ultra-modern movie house. For the following 40 years, the Cooper Theatre served as the cultural and economic anchor on Main Street and became the site of first-run movies, first dates and first jobs.
The Cooper’s original luster was gradually eroded by the arrival of multiplexes and strip malls. Six months after Carmike 7 opened in 1989, the Cooper went dark and the empty building became an eyesore battling for survival.
The next bold moment was orchestrated by the remarkable Pat Gormley, who rallied like-minded citizens around the idea of saving the building and restoring the Avalon Theatre to its former glory. He established the Avalon Project, Inc. in 1991, which later morphed into the Avalon Theatre Foundation.
In one bold move after another, the City of Grand Junction was cajoled into buying the Cooper in 1994 and funds were raised in a classic grassroots fashion to restore the Avalon’s original Romanesque Revival façade in 1996. In 1999, the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra held its first concert in the Avalon.
Although the restored façade was beautiful, the theatre itself was in poor shape. By 2010, the $9.7 million cornerstone project was in its infancy. Moving the project to completion by 2014 required bold heroics from the City of Grand Junction, Downtown Development Authority, Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra, Department of Local Affairs, ANB Bank and the Avalon Theatre Foundation. Compromises were made, but the Grand Valley’s mettle brought the project across the finish line.
The next bold decision was when the city outsourced the theatre’s operations in 2017 to a for-profit management company that specializes in running theatres and convention centers.
OVG360’s general manager Maria Raindson has received well-deserved praise for the high quality entertainment regularly featured at the Avalon Theatre. Furthermore, OVG360 works closely with the Avalon Theatre Foundation to ensure that local organizations such as Community Concerts of the Grand Valley and High Desert Opera can affordably host their events at the Avalon.
For the past 18 months, the Avalon Theatre Foundation has been planning a centennial celebration worthy of the Avalon’s bold history, thanks to the support of local sponsors.
The festivities begin on New Year’s Eve with a fundraiser dinner on the mezzanine of the Avalon just before the High Desert Opera’s evening performance of “Nunsense!”
Starting in February 2023, the Avalon will show a monthly movie along with a brief lecture from each decade of the Avalon and the Cooper.
On January 5, which is the Avalon’s actual birthday, come see Artrageous, an amazing fusion of music, comedy, dance and theatre during which eight performers paint five gigantic canvases! There will also be flapper dancers in the lobby and a contest among audience members for the best roaring ’20s costumes.
On January 14, the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra presents a concert of John Williams’ movie scores.
On May 7, Community Concerts of the Grand Valley presents “One Hundred Years of Hank” (Hank Williams was also born in 1923).
Lastly, the Centennial Celebration concludes in November with a to-be-named, well-known performer.
Until then, let’s boldly party like it’s 1923!
The Avalon Theatre Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 1991 by Pat Gormley with a mission to renovate and expand this wond... Read More »